Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho


“Where there are discos, may we bring harmonies.”

— Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho —

What started out as a 15-minute sketch at Theatre503’s Thatcherwrite season — a series of short plays based on the life of Margaret Thatcher staged in response to her death, in 2013 — have expanded deservingly into a full hour of boisterous and hilariously funny drag cabaret.

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, is led by the brilliant Matthew Tedford who presents The Iron Lady as a gay icon all dragged up in a two-piece tweed suit, feather boas and stony gin-and-tonic voice.

While watching this uproarious account of Lady Thatcher’s rise from divisive politician to ‘cabaret superstar’, I could not help but to wonder: Why did nobody make this observation while she was alive? It was all there, right in front of our eyes… the pearls, the signature handbag, the unsightly practical flat heels… even the hair screamed drag queen with a capital ‘D’.

Any who, those were different times.

Unlike the satirical backdrop of Thatcher’s drag act in G.A.Y., in the real world under Thatcher’s iron fist 1988 was a riotous time of discontent. The gay community in particular suffered a heavy blow with the introduction of Section 28, a controversial law prohibiting the ‘promotion’ (read ‘education’) of homosexuality in schools.

Thatcher was not our friend.

However, Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, attempts (and certainly succeeds) to rewrite the pains from the past into something more of a fluffy pantomime as it imagines Thatcher making a wrong turn on the eve of the vote for Section 28. Maggie gets lost in Soho and accidentally finds herself in the glittering and gloriously camp club, G.A.Y., where she erupts into song and dance, performing hits like ‘It’s Raining Men’ and Bonnie Tyler’s ‘We Need A Hero‘.

A cabaret superstar is born!

But will the Iron Lady change her mind about the homophobic Section 28 before it’s too late?

Dame Edna has an unlikely rival in Matthew Tedford as he delivers Lady Thatcher with panache while capturing her every mannerism with alarming precision — and that in itself is ‘revenge’ enough… the sequins, hotpants and mustached wingmen flanking Maggie simply make this punchy political satire deliciously sweeter.

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a camp odyssey about gay rights, the 80s and disco! It is a brilliant make-believe reconciliation between the gay community and a lady who suddenly is for turning. (If only things were that simple back then…No regrets!)

Camper than Christmas, glamorous, outrageous and even a bit horrifying. Comedy genius! A guaranteed laugh-a-minute — unless you’re a Daily Mail reader… or a Thatcherite… and there should be a special award for the line “Where there are discos, may we bring harmonies.”

Bitchy and regal, Margaret Thatcher makes the perfect drag queen all thanks to Tedford and his supporting cast. I suspect a full West End transfer is on the cards.

Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho plays at the Leicester Square Theatre until 21 March. Click here to book tickets.

The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours


February is LGBT History Month — giving us the opportunity to explore our past, share our stories and remind ourselves of the common threads that tie us together.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of those threads. It was our Holocaust. It crippled our community as it killed hundreds of thousands of gay men with one foul swoop.

Looking back, we can now say: “We survived and we overcame.

But did we really? In a time when HIV drugs are more effective, making the disease no longer a death sentence, the devastating impact it had during those early days is far too easily forgotten by a more liberated and younger LGBT generation… often careless in their ignorance.

So, if we are painfully honest about the challenges we still face as an LGBT community (no matter where we find ourselves in the world), then HIV/AIDS have not left our beds. It still lingers between the sheets.

I found this poem in a comment thread of an article in which survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s reflect on their lives. It beautifully illustrates the heartache and sense of loss felt by so many, but also shows how we still live in the loitering shadow of this disease.

The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours

— by Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996 —

The watch you gave me still ticks its hours
though your hours here on earth are done;
The silent hand that sweeps its face
marks time for us no more.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
Is over now at last.

The life you had will live in us
whose love still bears your name;
The silent tomb that holds your cross
holds just your earth’s remains.

Your spirit, my dear and deep beloved one
Is ever now at rest.

I’ll celebrate your life, my love
And mourn its brief refrain;
I’ll celebrate our love that’s lost
And mourn, and mourn again.

The time you gave still lives in me
though time has robbed us both;
The finite hours that made our love
are counted now and done.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.

The smiles you gave still light my days
though laughter’s hollow comfort now;
Your life and memory live in me
though death’s crop is gathered home.

Your love, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.

Images: FR Lubbe for Little Red Shoes
Text: Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996

The Circle — Switzerland’s Forgotten Homophobic Past

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”

— Malcolm X —

World War II was a bleak time for LGBT people in Europe. Gay men in particular suffered open and often brutal persecution by the Nazis, with many perishing in concentration camps.

However, given Switzerland’s policy of political neutrality and tolerance it’s no surprise that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1942. This meant that, even during WW2, Switzerland had a thriving Gay community. In fact, many people are not aware that during the 30s, 40s and 50s Switzerland was by far a pioneer in terms of gay rights and allowing homosexual relationships.

Having said that, as LGBT people we know all too well that legal ‘privilege’ and social tolerance is a far cry from complete acceptance… even today, many of us still find ourselves often pulling on the shorter end of the social hypocrisy stick. A case in point is the docudrama The Circle (Der Kreis), which is due for release later this year.

Der Kreis - Due for release on 23 October

Der Kreis – Due for release on 23 October

The Circle (German with English subtitles) tells the true story of a Zurich gay club and magazine, called Der Kreis, which was founded in 1942. Der Kreis — a membership-only group — published a bimonthly illustrated magazine with pictures, stories, articles and gay art. There was official state censorship back then, which allowed full-frontal nudity in drawings but not photographs. The magazine by-passed censorship laws by printing illustrations and drawings, and racier texts were written in Shakespearean language, which the censors and even Karl Meier, the founder and editor-in-chief of Der Kreis, couldn’t read. The magazine was delivered in neutral envelopes, with Meier closely guarding the subscription list.

Along with the magazine, Der Kreis also organised get-togethers and special costume balls where their members could meet and mingle. To further protect the identities of their members, membership cards featured just numbers and no names, and most of their social events were held underground. Suffice to say, despite the fact that the law offered relative security to the Gay community in Switzerland, it was largely based on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and social intolerance remained a hold-over. It’s safe to say that personal attitudes took longer to change than the laws of the land.

The film’s director, Stefan Haupt, beautifully reconstructs this era in careful detail as he follows the real-life story of schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag — a naïve young French-literature teacher — and drag singer Robi Räpp — a hairdresser by day. The couple met and fell in love at one of Der Kreis‘s costume balls, in 1956. Shortly afterwards, both Ostertag and Räpp are targeted when police implicate the underground activities of Der Kreis and its gay subculture in a spate of murders among gay rent boy.

The police threats to the Gay community and raids on Der Kreis increase (similar to the witch hunts seen in some countries today) when the murders start to make headlines, resulting in acerbic and homophobic articles appearing in the mainstream press. This puts Ostertag at risks of being exposed as a gay man, putting his unconfirmed job as an educator in jeopardy — a potential embarrassing scenario for Ostertag’s bourgeois and stiff upper lip family.

The young Robi Rapp as portrayed by Sven Schelker

The young Robi Rapp as portrayed by Sven Schelker

Young Räpp, on the other hand, finds comfort and support from his widowed German mother, who worked as a cleaner and a theatre wardrobe lady. She embraces and accepts her son’s homosexuality and even helps to make the dresses for his drag performances.

The film eloquently illustrates the many hurdles a same-sex couple who simply wanted to be together had to jump through in the 1950s. The documentary element comes into play when Ostertag and Räpp are featured, in their old age in the present time, throughout the film in talking-head segments as they reminisce about leading conflicted public and private lives. They reflect on the impact of living in a society that, while nowhere near as officially punitive as Nazi Germany, still persecuted those whose lives were deemed inappropriate.

During one of the interview segments the couple argues about how long it took Ostertag to finally introduce Rapp to his parents. Ostertag did not come out to his family until his 70th birthday, even though he lived with Räpp since the 1950s and it’s rather poetic that in 2003 Ostertag and Räpp become the first Swiss couple to register as same-sex partners. Their struggles and having lived through decades of changing attitudes is at the very least a testimony that they are in some ways the guardian angels of the collective memory of the Gay movement of German-speaking Switzerland.

The Circle boasts a stellar cast, with Matthias Hungerbuehler as Ernst Ostertag, Sven as Robi Räpp and Marianne Saegebrecht, who is excellent in her bit part as Räpp’s mother. The film won the Teddy Award for best documentary with LGBT themes as well as the Panorama Audience Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It is due for release 23 October 2014.

A Dad’s Unexpected Advice To His Gay Son

When Sir Ian McKellen — co-founder of the UK charity, Stonewall — took to the stage on Trafalgar Square, introducing the headline act, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, as part of the Pride in London 2014 celebrations, he spoke about a 91 year old man in wheelchair who insisted on being at the parade… despite the rain. Sir Ian also mentioned a 78 year old man who specially came from Iceland to celebrate Pride with the rest of the 300,000+ supporters that showed up in London.

These are the pioneers of LGBT rights and there are plenty of them who are often forgotten — believers who never gave up in their fight for equality. These men and women have fantastic stories that serve as an inspiration and a source of wisdom for the younger LGBT generation enjoying so much more freedom, safety and acceptance than ever before in the history of the global LGBT community.

As part of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the pivotal moment when the Gay Rights Movement was born , in 1969, when gay protesters clashed with police in New York — StoryCorps has launched an initiative, called OutLoud, to preserve the stories of LGBT people.

In the spirit of Pride and in the spirit of remembering the stories of the men and women who came before us, I want to share one of the stories StoryCorps recently archived:

During the 1950s Patrick Haggerty, now 70, lived as a teenager in rural Washington. Patrick decided to perform in a school play. On the day of the performance, Patrick’s brother took him to school. On their way there, he started covering his face with glitter — to his brother’s horror. Patrick’s brother dropped him off at school and then immediately called their father.

Dad, I think you better get up there,” his brother said. “This is not going to look good.

Charles Edward Haggerty, their father, who was a dairy farmer, showed up at the school in dirty farming jeans and boots. When Patrick saw his dad in the halls, he ran away to hide from him.

It wasn’t because of what I was wearing,” Patrick says. “It was because of what he was wearing.

After the play, in the car on their way home, Patrick’s father called him out on his attempt to hide: “I was walking down the hall this morning, and I saw a kid that looked a lot like you ducking around the hall to avoid his dad. But I know it wasn’t you, ’cause you would never do that to your dad.

Patrick wanted to melt way into the car seat out of embarrassment, but finally exclaimed: “Well, Dad, did you have to wear your cow-crap jeans to my assembly?

His father replied: “Look, everybody knows I’m a dairy farmer. This is who I am. Now, how ’bout you? When you’re an adult, who are you gonna go out with at night?

Now, I’m gonna tell you something today,” his father continued “and you might not know what to think of it now, but you’re gonna remember when you’re a full-grown man: Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”

Recalling his father’s words, Patrick says that out of all the things a father in 1959 could have told his gay son, his father told him to be proud of who he was and not to sneak.

Patrick added: “He knew where I was headed. And he knew that making me feel bad about it in any way was the wrong thing to do. I had the patron saint of dads for sissies, and no, I didn’t know at the time, but I know it now.

**  The original story was published online by NPR. To listen to a recording or Patrick’s story, follow this link: **

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Images: Open Source Editorial & Francois Lubbe (Main article Image)
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes

Stormé DeLarverie — Drag King, LGBT Icon and Activist Dies At 93

“If Gay and Lesbian people are given civil rights, soon everyone will want them”

― James Howe, Totally Joe ―

Stormé DeLarverie — pronounced STORM-ee… rather appropriate for a name that is synonymous with the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City and a life dedicated to fighting for LGBT equality. Ms. DeLarverie has been revered as the Gay Community’s Rosa Parks. She was a pioneer of the modern-day LGBT Civil Rights Movement — a fierce woman who stood up for our community throughout her life.

Some writers believe Ms. DeLarverie may have been the cross-dressing lesbian whose clubbing by the police at the Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969, sparked the riots The woman has never been identified.

Others are adamant that Ms. DeLarverie was not that woman. However, no one disputes that she was there, and no one doubts that the woman who had been fighting back all her life, fought back fiercely in the summer of 1969. In an interview with the New York Times, in 2010, Stormé DeLarverie recalled that a police officer had hit her from behind. “I don’t know what he hit me with. He hit me from behind, the coward.”

Storme DeLarverie, the lady who appears to be a gentleman, NYC, 1961, by Diane Arbus

Storme DeLarverie, the lady who appears to be a gentleman, NYC, 1961, by Diane Arbus

She added: “A cop said to me, ‘Move faggot’, thinking that I was a gay guy. I said, ‘I will not! And, don’t you dare touch me.’ With that, the cop shoved me and I instinctively punched him right in his face. He bled! He was then dropping to the ground — not me!”

Two weeks after the Stonewall uprising, DeLarverie was a part of the official formation of the Stonewall Veteran’s Association on July 11, 1969. She rose through the ranks and eventually become the organization’s Vice President, and yet, sadly, those who are familiar with her dedication to the LGBT struggle are dwindling. The young members of the LGBT community, those in their 20s and 30s, have never heard of her.

Even more heart-breaking is the fact that this historical figure languished the last years of her life with little support from the LGBT community, being impoverished, with no family and few friends. In 2009, a social services group, the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA), was appointed her legal guardian by a judge. In March 2010, she was hospitalized after she was found disoriented and dehydrated at the Chelsea Hotel, her home for decades.

Storme DeLarverie at Brooklyn Gay Parade line-up with 1969 “Stonewall Car” © Williamson Henderson

Storme DeLarverie at Brooklyn Gay Parade line-up with 1969 “Stonewall Car” © Williamson Henderson

Born to a white father and black mother, in New Orleans on December 24, 1920, DeLarverie toured the fringe theatre circuit during the 50s and 60s as the only drag king in the popular drag performance group, Jewel Box Revue. The group regularly played the Apollo in Harlem and comprised of a dozen drag queens and DeLarverie, as King Stormé. The Jewel Box Revue was America’s first racially integrated female impersonation show.

Her friends believe that, in her younger days, she worked for the mob in Chicago. Once in New York, she was known to carry a straight-edge razor in her sock and her friends reminisce that while some merely walked to and from the gay and lesbian bars in the Village, she patrolled.

In the 1980s and ’90s Stormé worked as a bouncer for several lesbian bars in New York City. In 1987 Michelle Parkerson made the film Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box, which was screened on June 7, 2012, when the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture honoured Storme DeLarverie for her work within the LGBT community. One month before her death, on April 24, 2014, DeLarverie was honoured alongside Edie Windsor by the Brooklyn Community Pride Centre for her bravery, love, and fearlessness within the LGBT community.

Ms. DeLarverie passed away peacefully in her sleep on the morning of Saturday, May 24, 2014, in a nursing home in Brooklyn. Her death is a powerful reminder of the difficulties faced by elderly LGBT people, who are often estranged from their families and loved ones, living alone an incapable of giving themselves adequate care. It highlights the reason why LGBT seniors have special needs and I worry that someday I might be in the same position.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder: when New York’s LGBT community crowd 5th Avenue this year to celebrate Pride, will they know that six miles away in a care home, a frail old lady — ridden from her memories, her sanity and those who once were precious to her — died alone. She is the same woman who once was the cross-dressing M.C. of a group of drag performers… a fiercely protective (and pistol-packing) bouncer in the city’s lesbian bars… her contributions to the Gay Civil Rights Movement were monumental.

She is one of the reasons why toady we can celebrate and march in Pride.

Her name is Stormé DeLarverie. Lest we forget. May she rest in peace.

Storme DeLarverie in 2011 © Sam Bassett

Storme DeLarverie in 2011 © Sam Bassett

Images: Open Source Editorial or as Credited
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes